6 On Your Side: Illegal Autopsies? - KAUZ-TV: Newschannel 6 Now | Wichita Falls, TX

6 On Your Side: Illegal Autopsies?

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Newschannel 6 is looking into an accusation by a legal consultant that Wichita County is illegally sending bodies to Tarrant County for autopsy.

Wichita County Judge Woody Gossom said the county's legal counsel went back over the laws after this accusation was made, and they feel the county is still operating within the law.

However, Legal Consultant David Fisher said he plans to file a criminal complaint about the practice. He believes there are a number of sections in the Code of Criminal Procedure (CCP) that make it illegal.  

First, Fisher claims county leaders cannot send bodies out of county because it is not explicitly stated anywhere in the CCP that they can.

"Government only has the authority granted to it, and if it isn't granted in a statute or the Constitution, you don't have the authority to do it," said Fisher.

Judge Gossom said they generally do look for something that specifically states they can take an action. In this case though, Wichita County legal counsel believes the law infers that authority.

Gossom said changes made to the laws have altered the legislative intent.

"At one time the law intended for local physicians to perform the autopsy in the county where the person died," said Gossom. "When the legislature removed this legislation it created the intent that the commissioner's court would be able to pay for bodies sent by Justices of the Peace out of county for autopsies."

Fisher disagrees with this interpretation of what changes the amendment actually made to the law."The statute is amended later to allow the paying for the transporting of the body; that part of the Amendment did not address sending the body out of county, it was strictly within the county."

If Fisher files the complaint and an investigation is launched, Fisher said there is a simple fix. He said Wichita would have to join a "Medical Examiner's district."

A Medical Examiner's district is outlined in the CCP Article 49.25 Sec. 1-a as the following: "The commissioners courts of two or more counties may enter into an agreement to create a medical examiners district and to jointly operate and maintain the office of medical examiner of the district. The district must include the entire area of all counties involved. The counties within the district must, when taken
together, form a continuous area."

Judge Gossom said this portion of the law does not apply to Wichita Co., but wouldn't elaborate on why.

"We don't meet the criteria, there's no reason to venture that," said Gossom. "We're doing what we're supposed to by the law now."

Basically, each side seems to be interpreting the law differently. When, and if, Fisher files that criminal complaint, an objective third party can make a ruling on the issue.

While Gossom does not believe Fisher current claims, Fisher was right before. He had a hand in the former Wichita County Medical Examiner's Office closing down in 2010.

He alerted county leaders that the way it was set up then was illegal. County officials reviewed the law and decided to make some changes. You can read more about that story here.

 

Christina Myers
cmyers@kauz.com

 

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